As we quickly approach my twin girls’ first birthday, I’m reminded of just everything that happened on our way here. When I found out I was having twins, I was nervous about the nursing part but after having such amazing success and enjoyment from nursing my older daughter, Orange, there was no question that I’d do it again (x 2). I’m glad I didn’t know on Day 1 what I know now because I may never have made it this far.
So here it is. Here’s nursing Hell for you:
Day 1: The girls were born at 31 weeks, 6 days gestation via emergency csection. I could see them after birth but didn’t get to hold them, cuddle them, or anything remotely resembling connect with them. The only contact I had that first 12 hours was reaching into an incubator and touching their toes. I was sedated and in a lot of pain.
Day 2: I met with a lactation consultant just 9 hours after delivering. I started pumping every 3 hours around the clock. I continued this for the first two months. I dropped to every six hours at night from month three to six and stopped pumping in the middle of the night fully at that point.
Day 2: My first skin to skin meeting with the girls separately more than 12 hours after birth. Each session lasted about 10 minutes. This was the only time I saw them at all that day.
Day 3: I had a little more energy and a little less pain. I was able to walk short distances. Again, I only had minimal interaction with the girls. I held each of them just once with skin to skin contact for about 30 minutes.
Day 4: My milk finally came in. I cried. Hardcore sobbed. I got to be apart of the babes’ second day of feedings. They were given formula the day before. They tell me I was consulted on this and agreed to it but I don’t remember that part. I helped gavage feed the girls and gave them a taste of my milk from my finger.
Day 10: Due to low birth weight and slow weight gain, the NICU began fortifying my milk to add calories. They do this by adding a human milk fortifier to my breast milk before feeding the girls taking it from 20 calories per ounce to 24 calories per ounce. I know for sure I wasn’t consulted on this. They assured me that it was the best thing for my girls when I questioned it. I was scared and didn’t know to ask questions.
Day 13: Pink was given her first bottle. Purple received hers about 18 hours later. I wanted to be present for both but they nurses wouldn’t do them both at the same feeding. They took about 10 mL each.
Day 16: I was finally allowed to start nursing the girls. They had to be off all breathing assistance before they could bottle or nurse. Their nutrition also had to be specifically measured because of their weight so I couldn’t nurse until they were past “too small.”
Day 17: Both girls latched well for first time. They were still too weak to take a full feeding from nursing though.
Day 25: Their feeding tubes were finally removed.
Day 30: Both babes discharged from the NICU, still weak at nursing. They wouldn’t send us home with the HMF but the girls still required extra calories. To achieve this, they wanted us to supplement with formula. Yes, formula. Had I known this up front, I would have taken a longer NICU stay and smaller babies. We started bottling every 3 hours a combination of breastmilk with Enfacare.
Day 65: Our pediatrician finally allowed us to stop Enfacare. Started nursing full time every feed. The girls were a couple weeks past their due date and while still small, they were growing well. Unbeknownst to me, they were already used to the high calorie feedings. Our schedule was obliterated. The thinner breastmilk didn’t stay in their systems and they threw up often. They became colicky and inconsolable.
Day 70: Less than a week after starting to nurse full time (and follow each feeding with pumping) I had severe bleeding nipples, open sores, and excruciating pain with nursing.
Day 74-77: I came down with a high fever, lots of plugged ducts and a general feeling of death. I was treated for mastitis.
Day 81: I suffered severe milk/nipple blisters leading to multiple plugged ducts. Tried nursing from every position, pumping from every angle, cabbage leaves, hot and cold packs, but finally got relief after an epsom salt soak.
Day 86: At just short of 3 months old, the girls were diagnosed with failure to thrive. Not only were they not on the normal growth charts but they had fallen off of even the preemie charts. Dealing internally with PTSD and ppd, I felt alone and confused. Not knowing what to do, I started adding bottles of formula to supplement. Since the girls were still nursing, I decided to freeze everything I could manage to pump for fear of suddenly loosing my milk supply.
Day 90: I continued to deal with plugged ducts from milk blisters so I started regular epsom salt soaks.
Day 122: At just short of 10 pounds and over 4 months old, both girls were finally back on the growth charts, 1st % of the preemie chart but making progress. They were still nursing before every bottle but taking up to 2-3 oz of formula with every feed.
Day 185: After weeks of bad latches, both babes were diagnosed with identical lip and tongue ties. They were fixed and my chickas finally started nursing correctly but it was too late. My supply was keeping up but wouldn’t overcome the supplement needed.
Day 321: By some miracle, we survived. The girls nurse got down to 1-3 sessions day. They were so busy with their new found love for crawling that relaxing to suckle just was not on their list of priorities. They stopped nursing in public as well. There was just too much going on around them. This means my pump went with us everywhere and I was known for pumping in the van during trips to the zoo, weddings, and even on vacation. On quiet days, they will nurse more. I pumped as often as my sanity allowed. I typically got about 6-8 oz total for a day. I gave them everything I pumped by bottle in combination with their formula. Their growth is well on track now and they are thriving.
Day 350: I broke down. I cried as I pumped. I didn’t know it then but it was the last time I would pump. With my latest cycle, my supply dropped to pumping a mere 2 ounces a day. Two ounces to share between two babes. That wasn’t going to cut it. I begged my best friend to tell me it was okay to stop. I needed someone else to decide. I didn’t want to feel like I was the one cutting my girls off. All I ever wanted to do was make it to a full year of nursing. And here I was 16 days short. The idea of pumping was no longer maternal. It was hell. Feeding my children felt like hell. That same day a generous friend donated precious frozen breast milk to us. The donation allowed me to keep my girls at just about 5 oz each a day of the good stuff. Did I want them to have more? Of course. But this was acceptable.
We have just 8 days until their first birthday. I have milk frozen from many months ago that I thaw to give them. They will get at least a little breastmilk each until that 12 month mark and after that, we will just take it one step at a time. We’ve been going day by day up to this point so that’s the plan from here on out. I’ve given everything of my self to make it this far. I’ve had just about every nursing complication you can imagine. And here I am. I’m not a martyr. I’m just a mom trying to do what I feel is best.
It’s not the fairy tale ending that I had hoped for. It’s not what I planned. But it is what it is.